The View From Here: More decent news for a fresh, young year

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Success at sea

This hopeful story actually reports a 17-year work-in-progress of the parties involved. And at last, there have been high-fives all around. But first, the difficulties.

North America was once famously blessed by unfathomably robust fish stocks, brimming throughout her coastal waters. Generations of indigenous natives, European seafarers and North American fisher folk strived and thrived at harvesting our oceans’ teaming bounty. But from 1950 onward, industrial trawlers with ever-larger nets decimated marine fisheries. By the early 1990s, most of the North Atlantic’s legendary seafood stocks were on the verge of collapse.

Here’s an example of this catastrophe: about 550 years ago, European sailors bragged that one could very nearly walk across the mouth of the Hudson River (at Manhattan Island) on the fat backs of thousands of codfish four to six feet long. Yet by 1992, the Canadian government had to shut down its world-renown cod fishery, costing the livelihoods of 35,000 fishermen, canners and shippers (plus their families) in Newfoundland alone.

When Canada declared the moratorium, only one percent of traditionally harvestable cod stocks remained. Hoped-for recovery has been excruciatingly slow. Twenty-two years later, cod numbers have increased to only ten percent of their historical averages. And the giant, long-lived, fertile mother fish are all gone. Small, commercial cod is now “farmed.”

Well, here’s the good news! The United States has emerged as an innovator in rebuilding the stocks of overfished species.

In 1996, Congress passed the Sustainable Fisheries Act and ever since, American fishermen and their regulators have demonstrated to the world that “it can be done.” The Act calls for the National Marine Fisheries Service to coordinate all parties in drafting science-based recovery plans for the dozens of saltwater species which were nearly exhausted.

After 17 years of this collaboration, 33 types of fish which were once critically depleted in waters surrounding America have rebounded well — from summer flounder and black sea bass in the Mid-Atlantic, to swarming haddock off the Georges Bank, to the West Coast’s Pacific perch. Sixty-four percent of the species “on the ropes” are making good progress. Fishermen actively support Sustainable Fisheries recovery plans (and have the power to help fine-tune them), as if their livelihoods depend upon them. High fives!

Breathe a bit easier

Just last June, President Obama announced he will follow the counsel of top military and State Department advisors and cut the U.S. nuclear arsenal by one-third, axing our overall nuclear stockpile by “up to half.” The devil may be in the details, but this sure sounds reasonable to me!

Speaking of arms control …

I’ve long followed the decades of effort made by the world’s nations to negotiate a ban on the callous international trade of “small” armaments (known as “conventional weapons”) — i.e. tanks, attack helicopters, missiles and small military munitions.

And finally. In April, the majority of world governments took the historic step in an overwhelming vote toward non-violence among human communities. By a vote of 154 to 3, the International Arms Trade Treaty was created at the United Nations. Even the U.S. delegation approves of the Treaty, and has joined 115 other countries in signing it!

The International Arms Trade Treaty does NOT regulate the manufacture, use or trade of small arms inside of any country. Thus, it has no effect whatsoever on Americans’ “right to bear arms.” But wouldn’t you know it? The National Rifle Association apoplectically opposes it anyway. [Roll of eyes, heave of sigh …]

Fifty nations must now ratify the Treaty, for it to go into force. So far, Antigua/Barbuda, Costa Rica, Grenada, Guyana, Iceland, Mali, Mexico, Nigeria and Trinidad/Tobago have, thankfully, done just that. At issue here is a monstrous, cynical multi-billion-dollar business fueling the countless irregular insurgencies we see so often led by madmen. Tell your senators you would like this treaty ratified, that more of humanity might live in tranquility.

Sources: Friends Committee on National Legislation, Oxfam, Natural Resources Defense Council .